Our Pagan Village: The Importance and Persuit of Honor
Candlelight flickers over the Beltaine revels. Food is laid out in the circle for the feast. Only one rule – no one can feed themselves. Each is dependent on friends and loved ones for sustenance, joy and delight. After an hour of laughter and revels and way too much chocolate, I lay back on pillows and air cushions and bask in the love and companionship of my coven, my people, my tribe. This to me is what Wicca is all about. Community, sharing, obligations to further and deepen my friendships.
Again and again, we look to our community and wonder what is missing. As we sat here in the candlelight, I and my love quietly share the wonder of the evening – of community. And we discover things. In our world of today, we no longer look to our neighbors to provide that which we need for survival. Villages need people, urban society does not. This has provided better mobility, greater personal opportunity and increased survival. But it has divorced us from what we need as human beings to connect with each other. And it has divorced us from the Gods.
Let's be honest – community is about the last thing our Pagan populations have these days. And it is not the fault or the purview of the Pagan leadership. To be honest, most of the leadership doesn't know what's going on. All they can do is to continue to exhort our people to be a better community. But is it possible?
Consider how we talk about, and what we believe about, people in our work environments. Fellow employees and supervisors have an impact on our day to day life and success. Here we are very careful. We hedge what we say; we are careful in what we think what they said means. We clarify, we compromise and we go to mediation to ensure cooperation in the outcome of decisions. Why don't we bring this level of partnership to our spiritual life?
Spiritual? That's the crux. Why is it that in an area of our life that should be so fulfilling and of the deepest level of commitment, there can be such harsh and negative opinions of our Pagan fellows, community members and coveners? Yet a co-worker who had exhibited similar behavior might not be a favorite, but there would be little question of their acceptability. So, here it is. We are critical and negative because we can afford to be, because we are separated from the members of our community and we have not yet created important social structures where accountability for intolerant views has an impact. We have only an illusion of community. Community is an interactive, cooperative effort among those who – willy-nilly – are in a particular environment. And we learn through all the tools mentioned above to have respect for our members, no matter how different, rather than allow the overall vision to die. This does not describe the Pagans of today.
But our instincts say that we must find and reinstate this village, this interactive community. Why are we trying to do this? What is our model? Throughout history the village has represented the strongest model of community. People were born in a small group of family and neighbors. They only thrived through the combined talents, skills and efforts of that group of people, and they died in that same couple of square miles they lived in throughout their lives.
These people did not have the luxury – or the view – of searching out the perfect collection of people to fill their lives with. And the daily endeavors of this village were as dominant and important as our work environment is to us today. Since villagers had no option, they weren't looking critically at their membership, they never had the multitudes of options and difficult critical choices that allowed them to discard what was in front of them as unfit and continue to review the rest of the population to pick and choose a select group of perfectly fitting little cogs for their social village.
Under the circumstances, these folks learned to watch their mouths, learned to forgive, learned to honor what people did bring, and learned to restrain harshness which would forever damage relationships. This is very similar to the skills, values and restraint we now bring to our work environment. However, it is one more area in which we have divided our livelihood and spirituality. Things were once much more homogeneous. Our current critical view of our world is the product of a world endlessly full of people we review for that perfect match. And given that we are unwilling to compromise, we will never find them. Oddly enough, the people in front of us are all good enough, valuable and worthy. We just have to believe that, and look again with eyes evaluating value and honor - not continue to pursue potential ranking amongst the many.
How did this work in the past? The Elders are those who sit above in shadow and watch. Their physical contributions may have waned, but they provide wisdom, policy and truth – value, meaning and depth. The leaders were younger and interacted with the community. They took the wisdom and truth of the Elders and implemented it as day to day operating strategies. They provided counsel to all those who asked, they taught the younger members. Community was then all of these people who valued the truths of the Elders and the Gods and their community. These were the members of the community - Elder, Leader, Youth alike, who lived, learned and loved through the wisdom of the village, the tribe, they brought that gift of life and loving to all members. Then there are the Youth - powerful, active, young people. They listen and question. They use the Gods' gift of power and strength to assist those less physically prime.
Without the restraint and wisdom, and social guidelines that the Elders bring, there is no consensus which allows actions. Without the contributions of those with the gift of interpreting and explaining the truths of the Gods and Elders, there can be no consensus which allows growth and comfort. Without the questions, energy and ability of the youth, there is no accomplishment of tasks necessary to continue the village's survival. There would be stagnation. All these things must be blended, by mother necessity, into a mix which allows success.
It is now time in our contemporary world to provide sufficient definition, allow development of competent leadership and promote sufficient activity and change, that we can at last create a community. Until now, at best, we have been a collection of people with similar views, but we have rarely cooperated to the point where we are truly an effective community. And a big piece of that puzzle is related to the fact that we have not yet created a consistent definition of who we are as a people, what we mean and represent, and what our population must contribute in order to have that community survive.
How do we do this?
Let's begin at the beginning. Why do we come together? The Gods. The Goddess. All that means, all that implies. We want dark, starry nights, free of fear, with our brethren gathered in a circle, focused on the heavens and chanting in celebration of the Gods and our World. The drums echo our heartbeats, and we live our religion.
We look for the Lord of the Forest, deep in the shadows the aged trees, small animals drawn to our circles, peering into our conversations with the divine.
These are the deep and abiding relationships we crave in our lives. How can we bring those to life?
An example of our modern moral dilemma was in a letter we recently received from a young woman. At 13 years old she had already found Paganism, studied, and dedicated herself to the Old Gods, but her father was a prominent figure in the Lutheran church. As the date for her confirmation approached, she faced a dilemma. Tell her father of her differing beliefs and refuse the confirmation? Or make vows to gods she doesn't believe in to spare her family?
Our answer to her was not an easy one. We urged her to keep her Pagan values, those of truth and honesty. If she is a liar, she will always anticipate lies, receive lies and be victim of lies. We get back the energy we extend. If you are kind and honest and strong, you will be the recipient of kindness, honesty and support.
Even after we replied to her letter, we continued to discuss her situation and in general terms mentioned it to friends and acquaintances. We were startled to find that some folks saw no harm in going through with the ritual, even though she had already made her pledge to other Gods. The diversity of opinion was intriguing, and it was enlightening. It began to answer some questions. Who are we as a people, and as a religion, if truth and honor are options to be discarded if inconvenient? How can we be a community if no one ever knows if another is to be trusted, or is without honor?
We can find examples of honor in our Pagan past. For the Celts a lie is anathema. They held truth in action and words, above all other considerations. St. Patrick asked the Celtic king Cailate what make his people great. Cailate replied that "The truth was in our hearts, the strength in our arms, and the fulfillment in our tongues". Accallam na Senorech
The Greeks thought a lie abhorrent.
"Don't you know, that the veritable lie, if the expression is permissible, is a thing that all Gods and men abhor?"Plato Republic
"Similarly liars are divided into those who like lying for its own sake and those who lie to get reputation or profit." Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics
To the Romans, a liar was detested by both men and Gods.
"But what is the difference between a perjurer and a liar? He who is in the habit of lying, is in the habit of perjuring himself. The man whom I can induce to tell a lie, I shall easily be able to prevail on to take a false oath. For he who has once departed from truth, is easily led on, with no greater scruples to perjury than to a lie. For who is influenced by just a mention of the gods in the way of deprecating their anger, and not by the influence of conscience? Because the same punishment which is appointed by the immortal gods for a perjurer is appointed also for a liar. For the immortal gods are accustomed to be indignant and angry, not on account of the form of words in which an oath is contained, but on account of the treachery and malice by which a plot is laid to deceive any one."
Cicero For Quintus Roscius the Actor
Slowly, as the Christians gained influence in Roman society the Pagan ideal of honor was replaced by the Christian idea of sin.
Honor is something that could be gained or lost, depending on an individual's actions. So, honor was something to be pursued and treasured. An individual with a long-held reputation of honest dealing and speaking truth was highly respected in Pagan society. A person who lied was shunned – no longer part of that community. However, a person who had lost their honor could regain it through redress of wrongs and long-term positive behavior.
Eventually the Roman and Christian beliefs became dominant in the culture, and thus the Christian definition of sin rather than honor also became the norm. Everyone was a sinner and could not improve their lot. The highest level a person could rise to was the momentary forgiveness of sins by the church. It was understood that each person's inherent sinfulness would then drag them back into sin and confusion once again. All the Pagan conventions of truth and honor were lost, to be replaced by confession and penitence.
Most modern Pagans have been raised in a culture steeped in the Christian idea of sin. As Pagans we reject sin based morals and are often left with no guidance, in a vacuum, and simply seek not to hurt anyone. Now, as we reach to define modern Paganism, we look back to our spiritual ancestors for their ideals.
In today's world people were taught to be very detailed about how they interact with others. They have systems by which they operate ethically with their friends and family, and these standards vary widely within both the wider and the Pagan culture. Most people believe they act ethically even when others would vehemently disagree. But their justifications lie in the details – they did not truly promise and thus have not betrayed their word. When this person's actions are questioned, they usually give a reason why they are justified in taking such actions. They insist the action was justified because they have had a deprived childhood, poor luck in relationships, friends in the past have betrayed them or a myriad of other reasons they should be held blameless. Pagan ethics are much simpler and much harder. If you lie, you are a liar. If you steal, you are a thief, and so on.
Over time a person can regain honor. Unlike Christianity, where all redemption is granted by deity, Pagan redemption is granted by the individual who was wronged, combined with the innate justice of the transgressor. Forgiveness is not automatic. Those who seek forgiveness must express regret for the action, must make restitution and promise no repetition. Only after these steps are taken and accepted can forgiveness be granted. But forgiveness is not forgetfulness. As the old saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." If a friend steals money, even if he makes restitution, it may be years before I trust him again with cash. "Sorry don't fix broke", but acting in honor and truth over the long term can eventually bring trust once again.
We are no longer subject to the unstated complexities of Christianity's beliefs. Now we make decisions, and choose our path to honor. We will look past a cultural heritage that teaches all people are base and dishonorable. There is really only one option which will allow us to believe and depend on each other in the manner that that long ago village was able to know.
An acquaintance used to say he was not at fault when he didn't keep promises, because he did not actually say the words "I promise." To me, he had lied – to him he had told the truth. What exactly is truth? In older days, we valued character. Someone with character did not cheat by technicalities of language. Truth was not in the word, but in the intent and meaning behind the words. The honorable person does what he says and also follows through on the meaning implicit in the agreement. Thus, there is trust, not in the words themselves, but in the person. So truth is not simply words, and truth is not available when demanded or asked for. A friend said that he would have to lie if a young child asked for truth about sex. Otherwise he would find himself discussing details not appropriate to that age, much less the complications about answering such questions for someone else's child anyway. It had never occurred to him that he was not lying if he simply declined to answer. We are very confused as to what is owed our fellows.
It is not lying to reserve, keep private or decline information to others. We have as much right to privacy as anyone else has to information. We dishonor ourselves if we do not balance our needs with those of others. If we are not comfortable, healthy and happy, indeed, what do we have to offer our community? One must first exist in balance and stability, so you have a firm foundation from which to offer your gifts and talents to your community. This again, has been confused with the vilified selfishness of the Christian belief system. Personal knowledge, magick and energy must be conserved, preserved and valued. If we are not consistent in our use of language, intent and action, we will never access the true power of our magick.
This harmony of message, action and truth requires we have consistency among the people we work magick with, live with, love with and grow with. In order to believe, trust and honor each other, to begin to gain perfect trust and perfect love, we must know what our verbal contracts with one another mean.
The contract with the Gods, up until now, has been a vague thing for most members of our world. And it is no one's fault; it is simply a product of our mixed cultural heritage. It is now time to step up to the altar and say precisely what we mean, what our actions will be, and how we will honor our Gods and our fellows.
We must make an honorable contract with both our Gods and our community. We must make honorable contract with our friends, family and spiritual partners. It is at last time to say what we mean, teach our children to say what they mean and become dependable partners both in our personal and religious lives. We must understand that saying what we mean also includes any actions required to honor the commitment of our words. Without this commitment, we are simply shouting in the wind.
First and foremost we must understand why we are involved with a particular community and religion. It is necessary that we know in full measure what the important beliefs, values, gods, obligations, hope and goals of that community are. If we are not fully aware and in concert with these cultural underpinnings, then it will never be a true membership. And confusion and dishonor may creep into interactions along the way as the meaning behind the words is unclear. Thus, our actions are best promised with a clear and complete understanding of a particular village and their needs.
Not only must we be aware of these beliefs and definitions, as a member of that community we can never do less than fully support, clarify and promote these beliefs. It is foolish hope to believe you can hold completely separate or opposing views and exist in concert within a community. These beliefs are the foundation of the way the community views, acts and responds to its members, outsiders and situations. I once had a boss who happened to be Catholic. Her view was that each member of her department was a selfish, evil, unfortunate situation waiting to occur. My view of people as innately divine was at such odds with her viewpoint, that we could not co-operate in managing the department. I saw each person as full of potential and needing to be offered the fullest autonomy available to expand their abilities and capacities. She saw each member as dangerously unstable unless carefully watched and monitored – completely incompatible views of the world.
The only way this truly works is if each member is not only aware of these rules, supports and promotes them fully, but also values their membership and commitments to this community. These beliefs are the defining characteristics in their lives, and they will devote considerable time and effort to maintaining their standing and honor in their community. One of the largest drawbacks today's culture has for our children is that they tend to be drawn in and assigned a community rather than comprehending that membership as a choice, a goal to be aspired to and a valued membership when attained. Without that value there is no worth in the values, goals and ethics of the community to which they belong, only compliance – and compliance was never a motivator for supportive, creative behavior.
Membership in our community is particularly difficult for Pagans to define, given that we do not have many of the obvious values of villages and communities in times past. We tend not to be located in the same geographic areas, coming together from many cities, counties and sometimes states or even countries. Crops, disease and weather are no longer the common elements in a Pagan community. However, we still come together and try to create strong environments to celebrate ourselves and our gods, teach our children the joy of the Earth and the responsibility required to promote continued life and growth on the planet for ourselves and our brothers of the woods and seas. And we address political and civil restraints and concerns in the practice of our beliefs. These beliefs are central to how we develop and promote honorable intercourse between members of our Pagandom. Given that, let's look at what Pagans believe and how these important beliefs can be arranged in such a way to measure the honor we offer to our peers, and we garner to our own credit.
- All Gods are facets of the unknowable Divine, Mystery and Beauty. We, the children of the Gods, dance with delight and in celebration of those divine mysteries. We offer to all children of the Gods, Pagan or no, the respect due to any of the Gods' creations. We acknowledge our divinity and responsibility in the continuance of the freedom to celebrate and love.
- All are people of the Gods; even so their Gods have names that differ. It well may be that the people of the world have wildly different beliefs and practices. But so long as they do not threaten the physical well-being of Pagandom or any of the Gods' children, they are welcome diversity. We will lend our energy and support to all of the Lady and Lord's creations for continuance of the celebration, the mystery and the beauty that creation has brought us.
- Truth is the measure of our strength and heart. As we believe, we will have no fault or doubt in our heart concerning our path and that which we have pledged to conserve and value. Our intellectual and emotional conflicts have been resolved and our truth, inner and outer – with no fine print – shall show the strength and heart of our community and our selves. Those who would be strongest, will deal personally with inner conflicts and rise joyfully above petty detail.
- Generosity is the measure of our truth. With the strength gained from consistent use of our will and talent, for our goals of harmony and growth, we have the knowledge and power to share for all people who call on us. We do not waste or throw away energy, but we invest it in the villages of our community and those who share our paths.
- Creation is a measure of community. Each member of a community contributes according to their gifts and talents. There will those who work with homes, cooking, those who can contribute time and energy, those with administrative gifts, those who can teach, those who can build, all are welcome, all are valued. If a community is stifled, without new crafts, joy or love, new energy is needed.
- Life is a celebration of mystery and joy. There are no easy answers; there is no one truth to satisfy all. There is only this: a deep joy in our being and a celebration of how that came about, even with no proven origin to slake our curiosity. Thus rather than being annoyed by diversity, we appreciate each difference, each separate strand in the great tapestry and weave all into a whole of beauty. This joy is a choice, a delight, a personal decision to opt for optimism. It does not deny harsh reality; it filters through all choices and leaves behind victimization and self-sacrifice for personal responsibility and gifts freely offered.
- The Gods bless community with gifts and talents. Among our people are all the things we need to make a life for ourselves and our neighbors. Every person will receive the fruits of every other person's gifts and talents, that the entire community will live more richly and deeply for its days here.
- Strength is a blessing to be used for community growth and harmony. Strength need never be proven; it is a well of power and potential to be used for the community's growth and success. Strength not properly applied is a travesty and a waste of the Gods' blessing. Elders provide guidance to those of youth and strength so that all may know how best to use such a blessing. Any strong person standing alone is an illusion. True strength is only available through the interwoven gifts of all. If the strong do not have food and shelter, they will wither. And those who share their gift of strength now shall have the gifts of another's youthful power later in their path, when it is needful.
- A Blessing for one member is a blessing for all. A measure of the Gods' generosity. A wonderful song says that if he is so lucky, then we are lucky too. Success and honor of any member of a group is an indicator of the overall health, beauty and success of all members. There may be occasional blemishes, but health will reassert itself. Nature always reclaims that which is Hers.
- Forgiveness is earned, it is the path to honor regained. When one fails in one's duty to the community, their honor is diminished. Steps must be taken to regain that honor, and the resultant regard one is held in by the community: first, true remorse over the issue, then reparations to whomever was lessened, and finally a commitment not to transgress in such a fashion in future. These actions, combined with other honorable actions, will redeem honor for the community member.
- Pagans are dedicated to further the goals and growth of their community. We know in full measure what the important beliefs, values, gods, obligations, hopes and goals of that community are. Our actions are committed and committed to with a clear and complete understanding of goals and values of their village.
- Pagans are dedicated to safeguard and promote that community and its beliefs. We fully support, clarify and promote our beliefs and the success and potential of all the community members.
- Every member of a Pagan community seeks to uphold and promote the honor of community membership. Each member is aware of community rules and fully supports and promotes them. They value their membership and commitments to this community. It is a defining characteristic in their lives, and they will devote considerable time and effort to maintaining their standing and honor in their community.
I know, there is not a single hard and fast rule among these guides to honorable behavior. And there cannot be. The true measure may never be known among those of us who have been brought up in the legalist and technical concept of honor and truth. Thou shalt not kill. Unless it needs to be done, unless it saves a life. Thou shalt not commit suicide. What if you withhold a great and horrific disease from your village by going out alone and deliberately seeking an end to your life? There are no easy answers. There never were.
The very idea of honor precludes all and any rules. Such rules are specific and not geared to the real life variables and details which would render them a poor answer.
But at least with these guidelines, we give up on an old and useless method of trying to make rules, and begin again to return honor of our fellow Children of the Goddess. Never forget that the Gods are as much a mirror of us, as we are a reflection of them. Blessed Be.
Pagan Paths to Honor
- All Gods are facets of the unknowable Divine, Mystery and Beauty.
- All are people of the Gods, even so their Gods have names that differ.
- Truth is the measure of our strength and heart.
- Generosity is the measure of our truth.
- Creation is a measure of community.
- Life is a celebration of mystery and joy.
- The Gods bless community with gifts and talents.
- Strength is a blessing to be used for community growth and harmony.
- A Blessing for one member, is a blessing for all. A measure of the Gods' generosity.
- Forgiveness is earned, it is the path to honor regained.
- Pagans are dedicated to further the goals and growth of their community.
- Pagans are dedicated to safeguard and promote that community and its beliefs.
- Pagans will uphold the honor of community membership.
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